We decided to turn a 6 hour loop hike through lower and upper Red Cave slot canyon based on the East side of Zion National Park into a precarious 13 hour day of survival. PHOTOS of the hike (click here)
Beginning the day with our Camelbak water bottles full of 3 liters each and a few granola bars, we ventured from the Stone Church parking lot on hwy 89, across the road, through a personal property gate and across the creek. We traversed the sand filled wash for about 3 miles slogging our way toward the slot canyon opening like Indiana Jones.
Entering the natural gate of the slot was like walking into a clip from the movie fraught with cooler temps, less sand, and a firm foundation of slick rock to brace our sore feet upon. We ascended a 10 ft overhang with the help of a former climbers gifted rope. Once on the precarious ledge of the 10 footer, we needed to don the rock climbing harnesses and gear up for the 20 foot climb up to the next walk through.
With thoughts of the film 127 Hours, we all made our way through the slot until the opening came out into the sunlight again like the mouth of the wash should. By this time in the day, many of us had sucked out last few drops of water from our camelbak packs and downed our energy juice gummies. We were exposed to the 104 degrees of direct sun and actually still enjoying the adventure.
By the time we were to make connection to the loop ‘out’, which we missed altogether, we began to sense a bit of concern. Our map wasn’t easy to follow as the indications of markers were not clear, nor was the route marked for easy following. We knew it was getting bad when some of our more athletic crew began cramping for lack of water and carbs.
We doubled back a couple times looking for the loop wash out connection, to no avail.
We decided to hunker down and traverse the ridge to the North in hopes of finding our passage. This effort did nothing but make the troops more tired, thirsty and definitely more crampy. Thank you Vern for catching much of this on your GoPro video cam. I can’t wait to see the footage.
We made a democratic decision, or was it mutiny of the leadership?, I don’t recall… but all of the sudden we found ourselves descending the mountain to some local 4 wheeler tracks that were discovered in the canyon. We walked along an edge of the slots that seemed to drop 50 feet to our doom, but no one slipped, save for some precarious and loose footed slot rocks along the way.
Once we dropped down the canyon to the slot canyon opening, we found our venture at an end, for the moment. Brett and I came upon the drop down repel of 2 15 foot drops that was sure to be our undoing. We were all sapped of energy for loss of water completely, no more gummies to chew and hardly an encouraging word in the bunch. Steve secured his rope, dropped down into the first 15 foot drop and quickly slipped safely over the second drop with a shout, “yep, we’re going to have to rope up for the repel in.”
Vern went quickly to action, secured an anchor for the rest of us to drop in. Some slipped causing rope burns on all 8 digits and others were lowered down completely as cramping had nearly frozen our quads and calf muscles. Todd and I were down and heard a shout from the top, “You guys go out of the slot and get help. We’ll make our way out slowly.”
Todd and I felt the urge for a swift rescue, but the feeling soon turned into a desperate need to just get to some civilization and seek help. After clearing the closure of the slots, we slogged through 2 miles of sand filled wash and never came upon a drop of natural water, save for the puddle of stagnant liquid of some sort that neither of us wanted to even stain our shoes with.
We made out of the wash together based on Todd’s conversation, which kept my feet clomping one heel following the other. I wouldn’t have made it without you Todd. We got to the turn in the wash that was a road through a trailer park ridden plot of land near a couple acres of farm land. We felt the rush of adrenaline walking through the RV graveyard and heard the music faintly in the background from local traffic on the highway harmonizing with flying vultures overhead. It was creepy, but we pressed on.
After knocking on doors near the window a/c units humming loudly over our cries for help. Nothing. No response. We walked on… through the creek to the highway. Todd and I found ourselves thumbing for a ride on the highway toward the Stone Church where our truck and van were parked. Why won’t anyone pick us up? What’s wrong with this picture? Is this how hitch-hikers feel? I hate this.
Out of nowhere a little red Geo Metro made her way to the side of the road, Linda picked up Todd and I while asking her 8 year old daughter Ellen to move over in the back seat, “You don’t look like the normal riff-raff hitching on the side of the road in Utah. What’s up?” We were so grateful to get a ride, I almost began to cry in the back seat. “Looks like you two could use some water, what’s up?” After telling her our story and getting a ride to the local gas station on the corner, we filled our camelbaks with water, bought 3 gallons of fresh, picked up some Gatorade, Snicker bars and some bananas, Linda gave us a ride to Paulie’s truck.
We picked up a few of the boys who had made it through the trailer park on their own and tossed them a couple Gatorades of their own. I’ve never seen grown men so grateful for something to drink. Todd and I took the truck through the wash back into the canyon to find the other guys, but must have missed them. We hiked to the drop where the repel ended, but found no one. They were able to scramble to the road where the van was and met us at the opening of the gate when we came out.
What an adventure, what a day. I don’t recall that this 13 hour day was part of the plan for the weekend, but I do recall Steve telling us that we were in for some good adventures and making of memories.
One thing I know for sure, life is an adventure and I’m all in. Thank God that we’re all safe to tell this story to our children and anyone who might listen. I guess I’ll never forget what the lady told me upon our exit from the adventure, one who lives there said, “Oh, well we have lived here for 25 years, and everyone knows that when you adventure back into those parts of the canyon, you always have to plan 5 more hours than you think.” Hmmm, well now we know. May you come to find joy in your great adventures with God as well, and remember… never tackle life alone… we are all in this together, one way or another.